Vintage Audio Gear Gets a Display Upgrade

The lengths the retrocomputing devotee must go to in order to breathe new life into old gear can border on the heroic. Tracing down long-discontinued parts, buying multiple copies of the same unit to act as organ donors for the one good machine, and when all else fails, improvising with current productions parts to get that vintage look and feel.

This LCD display backlighting fix for a vintage audio sampler falls into that last category, which was pulled off by [Inkoo Vintage Computer]. The unit in question is an Akai S1100 sampler, a classic from the late 1980s that had already been modified to replace the original floppy drive with a USB reader when the backlight on the LCD began to give out. Replacements for the original electroluminescent backlight are available, but [Inkoo] opted for a cheaper way out. An iPhone 6s 6 Plus backlight was an inexpensive option, if it could be made to fit. Luckily, [Inkoo] was able to trim the diffuser without causing any electrical issues. A boost converter was needed to run the backlight from the sampler’s 5 V DC rail, and interfacing the backlight’s flexible circuitry to the 80s-era copper wiring was a bit fussy, but the results were great. The sampler’s LCD is legible again, and looks just like it might have in the studio back when [Depeche Mode] and [Duran Duran] were using it to crank out hits.

As much as we like this repair, it doesn’t imply that EL is a dead technology. Far from it – [Ben Krasnow] is using it to create unique displays, and EL wire makes for some dazzling wearables. It doesn’t last forever, but while it does, it’s pretty neat stuff.

Raspberry Pi Powers This Retro Chess Computer

If you imagine somebody playing chess against the computer, you’ll likely be visualizing them staring at their monitor in deep thought, mouse in hand, ready to drag their digital pawn into play. That might be accurate for the folks who dabble in the occasional match during their break, but for the real chess aficionados nothing beats playing on a real board with real pieces. Of course, the tricky part is explaining the whole corporeal thing to a piece of software on your computer.

Enter the “Chess Challenger” by [slash/byte]. Modeled after a commercial gadget of the same name from 1978, his retro-themed open hardware design utilizes the Raspberry Pi Zero and modern chess software to bring the vintage concept into the 21st century. With the Chess Challenger and a standard board, the player can face off in an epic battle of wits against the computer without risk of developing carpal tunnel. We can’t guarantee though that a few boards might not get flipped over in frustration.

The pocket sized chess computer uses a “sandwich” style construction which shows off the internals while still keeping things reasonably protected. All of the electronics are housed on the center custom PCB which features a HT16K33 driver for the dual LTP-3784E “starburst” LED displays, a MCP1642B voltage regulator, 16 TL3305 tactile switches for the keyboard, and a MCP73871 battery management chip for the 3.7 volt lithium-ion battery that powers the whole show. The Pi Zero itself connects to the board by way of the GPIO header, and is mechanically supported by the standoffs used to hold the device together.

On the software side of things, the Pi is running the mature Stockfish open source chess engine. In development now for over a decade, this GPL licensed package aims to deliver a world-class chess gameplay on everything from smartphones to desktop computers, and we’ve seen it pop up in a number of projects over the years. [slash/byte] has provided a ready to flash SD card image for the Raspberry Pi, and even provides detailed installation and setup instructions which guide you through some of the more thorny aspects of the setup such as getting the Pi running from a read-only operating system so that abrupt power cuts don’t clobber the filesystem.

Over the years, some of the most impressive projects we’ve seen revolved around playing chess, and this latest entry by [slash/byte] is no exception. Another example of the lengths the chess community will go to perfect the Game of Kings.

Continue reading “Raspberry Pi Powers This Retro Chess Computer”

DooM Retrospective: 25 Years of Metal

Metal is many things. A material hard and coarse in nature that by forging it in fire becomes sharp enough to cut through anything in its path. The music that bares its namesake is equally cutting and exudes an unyielding attitude that seeks to separate the posers from the true acolytes. Metal is the sentiment of not blindly following the rules, a path less taken to the darker side of the street. In videogame form, there is nothing more metal than Doom.

The creators of Doom, id Software, were always hellbent on changing the perception of PC gaming in the 1990s. Games of the time were rigid and slow in comparison to their console counterparts. The graphical fidelity was technically superior on PC, but no other developer could nail movement in a game like id. The team had made a name for themselves with their Commander Keen series (which came about after a failed Super Mario Bros. 3 PC demo) along with the genre defining Wolfenstein 3D, but nothing topped Doom. In an era that was already soaking with “tude”, Doom established an identity all its own. The moody lighting, the grotesque monster designs, the signature push forward combat, and all the MIDI guitars a Soundblaster could handle; Doom looked and felt a cut above everything else in 1993.

In December of that year, Senators Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl held a hearing to publicly condemn the inclusion of violence in videogames sold in America. The bulk of the arguments sought to portray the videogame industry and its developers as deviants seeking to corrupt the nation’s youth. Id Software responded as if to raise the largest middle finger imaginable, by releasing Doom to the world the very next day. A quarter of a century later people are still talking about it.

Continue reading “DooM Retrospective: 25 Years of Metal”

A Portal Port Programmed For Platforms Of The Past

If you still have a Commodore 64 and it’s gathering dust, don’t sell it to a collector on eBay just yet. There’s still some homebrew game development happening from a small group of programmers dedicated to this classic system. The latest is a Portal-like game from [Jamie Fuller] which looks like a blast.

The Commodore doesn’t have quite the same specs of a Playstation, but that’s no reason to skip playing this version. It has the same style of puzzles where the player will need to shoot portals and manipulate objects in order to get to the goals. GLaDOS even makes appearances. The graphics by [Del Seymour] and music by [Roy Widding] push the hardware to its limits as well.

If you don’t have a C64 laying around, there are some emulators available such as VICE that can let you play this game without having to find a working computer from the 80s. You can also build your own emulator if you’re really dedicated, or restore one that had been gathering dust. And finally, we know it’s not, strictly speaking, a port of Portal, but some artistic license in headlines can be taken on occasion.

Continue reading “A Portal Port Programmed For Platforms Of The Past”

Custom Joystick For An Old Commodore Finds An Unlikely Home

Retro hardware is getting harder and harder to come by, with accessories such as joysticks and mice dropping out of the market the fastest. So if your old machine needs a new joystick, you may find yourself whipping it up yourself. While you’re at it, you might as well have some fun as [Tom Tilley] did when he built a C-64 joystick inside a replica disk drive case for his rare SX-64 luggable.

Anyone who remembers the amount of desk space the classic Commodore 1541 disk drive occupied might wonder why someone would want such an enormous base for a joystick. But rest assured that no actual 1541s were harmed in the making of this joystick; rather, [Tom] created a smaller replica of the drive case from MDF. The face of the case is about 80% original size, and the depth is cut down to about half the original, so the joystick actually ends up being a manageable size while offering a nice, broad wrist support. The drive door is 3D-printed and painted, and adorned with the original green and red LEDs. Decorations like the front badge and even replicas of the original rear panel labels, connectors, and switches were printed from files off a website devoted to recreating Commodore hardware from paper. Because Commodore love knows no bounds.

It’s silly, but it works, and we love the attention to detail. Hat’s off to [Tom] for not settling for yet another joystick build, and for keeping the Commodore flame burning. They may be tough machines, but they won’t be around forever.

Continue reading “Custom Joystick For An Old Commodore Finds An Unlikely Home”

Retro Wall Phone Becomes A Doorbell, And So Much More

We have to admit that this retasked retro phone wins on style points alone. The fact that it’s filled with so much functionality is icing on the cake.

The way [SuperKris] describes his build sounds like a classic case of feature creep. Version 1 was to be a simple doorbell, but [SuperKris] would soon learn that one does not simply replace an existing bell with a phone and get results. He did some research and found that the ringer inside the bakelite beauty needs much more voltage than the standard doorbell transformer supplies, so he designed a little H-bridge circuit to drive the solenoids. A few rounds of “while I’m at it” later, the phone was stuffed with electronics, including an Arduino and an NFR24 radio module that lets it connect to Domoticz, a home automation system. The phone’s rotary dial can now control up to 10 events and respond to alarms and alerts with different ring patterns. And, oh yes – it’s a doorbell too.

In general, we prefer to see old equipment restored rather than gutted and filled with new electronics. But we can certainly get behind any effort to retask old phones with no real place in modern telecommunications. We’ve seen a few of these before, like this desk telephone that can make cell calls.

Continue reading “Retro Wall Phone Becomes A Doorbell, And So Much More”

Memory Mapping Methods in the Super Nintendo

Not only is the Super Nintendo an all-around great platform, both during its prime in the 90s and now during the nostalgia craze, but its relative simplicity compared to modern systems makes it a lot more accessible from a computer science point-of-view. That means that we can get some in-depth discussion on how the Super Nintendo actually does what it does, and understand most of it, like this video from [Retro Game Mechanics Explained] which goes into an incredible amount of detail on the mechanics of the SNES’s memory system.

Two of the interesting memory systems the SNES uses are called DMA and HDMA. DMA stands for direct memory access, and is a way for the Super Nintendo to access memory independently of the CPU. The advantages to this are that it’s incredibly fast compared to more typical methods of accessing memory. This isn’t particulalry unique, but the HDMA system is. It allows the SNES to do all kinds of interesting tricks with its video output display like changing color gradients and doing all kinds of masking effects.

If you’re interested in the inner workings of classic consoles like the SNES, this video gets way down in the weeds in the system itself. It’s interesting to see how programmers were able to squeeze more capability from these limited (by modern standards) systems by manipulating memory like the DMA and HDMA systems do.  [Retro Game Mechanics Explained] is a great resource for exploring in-depth aspects of lots of classic games, like how speedrunners can execute arbitrary code in old Mario games.

Continue reading “Memory Mapping Methods in the Super Nintendo”